Owning the Job. Part IV – Misunderstood Requirements

Read all of the “Owning the Job” articles here

Maybe you have seen these…

Before I get started…here is my disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of these personally and I am not speaking on their behalf. I am offering my opinion of what they mean to me and sharing that with you in this collection of thoughts. Before you read on, please understand that I appreciate smart aggressive firefighting, it is what I live. I think there are some small things that some firefighters view as others trying to change the way we fight fire…I view them as tools for making us better and understand they must be understood properly and implemented into our game plan. They don’t really make us “safe”, they make us “smarter”. 

Let no man’s ghost return to say, “My training let me down.” — Aaron Heller, Captain, Hamilton Township Fire District 9, New Jersey

I have seen plenty written on these topics, initiatives if you will. I have read, dissected, and think I have a decent understanding of what they are and where they came from.

At the very basic level, most of these came from the loss of a firefighter(s). They have been formulated by best practices, lessons learned, and blood spilled. In fact, they are mostly committee based and I can only imagine the conversations when some of these were nailed down.

I remember the first time I read the “Rules of Engagement”. My thought was something like “You mean to tell me I am expected to go through these 1 at a time when I roll up on a fire…before any action?”. I imagine others might have thought the same thing.

My second thought was…hell, I already do most of that. Then I began reflecting on each rule of engagement. These things are a piece of cake if you are willing to understand them and add them as a tool in the toolbox.

Rules of Engagement for Firefighters (there is a longer section for incident commanders)

1. Size up your tactical area of operation.
2. Determine the occupant survival profile.
3. DO NOT risk your life for lives or property that cannot be saved.
4. Extend LIMITED risk to protect SAVABLE property.
5. Extend VIGILANT and MEASURED risk to protect and rescue SAVABLE lives.
6. Go in together, stay together, come out together.
7. Maintain continuous awareness of your air supply, situation, location and fire conditions.
8. Constantly monitor fireground communications for critical radio reports.
9. You are required to report unsafe practices or conditions that can harm you. Stop, evaluate and decide.
10. You are required to abandon your position and retreat before deteriorating conditions can harm you.
11. Declare a Mayday as soon as you THINK you are in danger.

Hell, it doesn’t get much more basic and clearer than that. As a matter of fact, it is like firefighters wrote it. Why in the World would a firefighter scoff at these? This isn’t asking too much. This guidance could streamline some of the thought processes for firefighters in the heat of the battle.

I fight what you fear

Really? You have a shirt that says “you fight what I fear”? Take it off. Chances are you don’t. Chances are that when confronted with a fire, you fear it too. You should. Fire is dangerous. We do a dangerous job. We aren’t dangerous. We shouldn’t be. The shirt should read “When confronted with what you fear (fire), I take calculated risks to ensure that I save lives and property”.

16 Initiatives

There are some great teachers out there who teach on the basis of content. Then there are others who teach on basis of some $50 words put together to make people think What the F#$% is that? Firefighters are just that…Firefighters. The majority have a high school education. Talk to them in a way they will understand. Make sure it makes sense. The 16 Life Safety Initiatives do just that. Read them here. No, really…read them. Take the time to read them and share them with your guys. Trust me, the minds who put that together weren’t wasting their time. The abbreviated “cliffs notes” are here. Fire Department members should be using them to guide their focus in planning for the future. We can’t change the past, we can have an effect on the future. They are guidelines.

Did someone say SAFETY again?

Deal with it. Until the end of time, we are going to be pressed to be safe. It is only right. We have a dangerous job. I know that, you know that, THEY know that. Have you ever wondered if pencil pushers are asked to be safe? No, because their mundane jobs aren’t dangerous. We need to get over getting hurt feelings when asked to be safe. We need to understand that being safe is not asking too much.

Whoa…is The Fire Critic bowing down to the Safety Nazi’s? Not a chance.

Don’t get me wrong, some of us can go too far. They are the ones who need to be educated as well. We need to be safe and they need to have an understanding that our jobs are dangerous. Being safe and having a dangerous job are different…and can be accomplished at the same time. That is where we become S.A.F.E. firefighters (to borrow a term from here). Smart Aggressive Fundamental Efficient. It may not encompass everything, but I think it hits the nail on the head pretty well.

Trust me, to ask firefighters to be safe is not the same as asking for a company of yard-breathers. The goal is to go home in the morning…of course without a silhouette of the skyline burning behind us.

What about laying it all on the line?

Ah…here is something that people DO NOT like talking about. What about giving our lives for others. I mean, entering a situation where the outcome might be death. Hell, I don’t know how to explain it (remember, nobody talks about it). This is the stuff of heros. I mean the events that make firefighters call other firefighters heros. Whether the outcome is everyone going home or nobody going home, these are the events who define “Firefighters”.

Like doing a search for a victim in less than plausible conditions, yet where someone might still be viable. Yeah…what the hell does that mean? Hell, I don’t know. Have you ever been to a scripted fire? Yet…have you ever heard of victims being found in a room that could still sustain life, yet all around it looked like the face of hell?

These are the moments when we have to base our decisions on everything we know…and we find out we know more than we thought.

No one was ever called a hero for saving a couch against all odds.

Arm Chair Quarterbacking

We are all guilty of picking apart incidents we weren’t at. I do it. We would have done it better. We would have done it differently. Some organizations were built to dissect actions of others to find issues that might be prevented in the future. Tactical firefighting culture has been improved by dissecting incidents which have effected the fire service. We learn, we adjust, we train, we implement. Think of the Denver drill or other drills similar. The creation of the Rapid Intervention Team is another.

Seat Belt Pledge

Apparatus design will continue to change until we get firefighters using their seat belts. I know…it is difficult putting on your seat belt when gearing up in the back of the rig because every second counts and we have to be in the combat ready position when the driver pulls the air brake. What if you wreck on the way there?

The seat belt pledge means a lot to me. I drive, I am always buckled up. I am a decent driver…but not everyone is. By “not everyone is” I mean the other drivers you pass on your way to a call. I had the scare of my career this last cycle. I thought that a woman and possibly children were about to die because they pulled out in front of us. Luckily, I was able to keep it from happening. Were my guys belted in? I am not sure. I doubt it though. I am working on the seat belt pledge…I am working on our culture in my firehouse.

Are you working on yours?